by Svetlana Chmakova
Brave is about a seventh grade boy named Jensen who is an easy target for bullies- he’s overweight, he doesn’t have many close friends, he struggles in school, his mom is busy, he daydreams often, etc. He thinks he’s a part of the Art Club, but his “friends” forget to include him in group texts and projects. He is friends with several from the newspaper, but they really just ask him to do little projects FOR them. He is forced to do a group project, and doesn’t have a partner, until a jock volunteers to work with him, and eventually protects him from bullies. There are a few blatantly mean boys who pick on Jensen, and these are the boys the reader wants to squish between the pages. Jensen has to learn about standing up for himself, and what it means to be a real friend.
What I liked about this book is the message. I’m a sucker for a book with a good moral. Jensen has so douchey people in his life, but he also has some that are kind and strong and teach him to stand up for himself. They are willing to be role models and help him make good choices for himself. I think seeing a situation with obvious examples of bullying (like Yanic) and less-obvious examples (like most of the Art Club) is good for students who are unclear.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t something I didn’t like, exactly, but something that was upsetting when applied to students. In the beginning, the book was kind of boring. I was getting annoyed that it was just about this wussy kid who let others walk all over him. It bothered me that Jensen didn’t realize he was being bullied. He accepted his treatment as normal, or just the way people are treated. The turning point for me was when his newspaper friends gave him the survey and he started to realize that it was bullying. Exclusion is a subtle example of bullying, but often more painful than being pushed around. Loneliness is why people hurt themselves. I would really like to see this in the hands of my students, bullies and victims alike.
Book 20 of 40
Graveyard Shakes (paperback)
by Laura Terry
Graveyard Shakes is a graphic novel perfect for the month of October. It starts with a father casting a spell to give his son 10 more years of life by taking the life of a child. He enlists the help of a ghost and some ghouls. Then it moves to sisters Katia and Victoria, who are attending a ritzy private school far from home, which I have to assume is in a small town or countryside. Katia is a talented pianist and marches to the beat of her own drum, while Victoria desperately wants to fit in. During a storm, Katia runs into the ghouls and Victoria sets out to save her from the dad and his spell.
What I liked about the book is that it was a fast read and it entertained me. It also presented a student who could care less about what others thought, but needed to tone it down a big, and another who cared too much what people thought and needed to learn to be herself. Although it was entertaining, it still had a message, which I appreciate if I’m to be sharing it with my students.
What I didn’t like about the book was that it was kind of dark. I mean, killing an innocent child so another child could live. Then he shows up later and the girls are okay with that. It was just creepy.
Book 12 of 40
Swing It, Sunny (paperback)
by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm
This is the second book about Sunny that the Holms (brother/sister duo) have written. In Sunny-Side Up, Sunny went to Florida to stay with her grandpa while her parents figured out what to do with her older brother Dale and his drug problem. In Swing It, Sunny, Dale is at a military school, angry that he has lost his freedom. Sunny is home and navigating middle school. She enjoys a lot of tv with her friend, learns to swing a flag from a new neighbor, and dresses up like a nurse for Halloween (although she wanted to be a swamp thing). The biggest concern for Sunny is her brother. She loves him and misses him, but he is not himself.
What I liked about this book is that it is great for a students who has a relative with a drug or alcohol problem. It shows that there are pressures for the entire family, not just the parents, when there is a family member who is sick. Her dad did a good job of trying to explain that Dale was not himself, but Sunny had to experience the pain for herself.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it didn’t have a strong plot with a problem and solution that would be a good model for my lower readers. It had a lot of internal conflict, which made it a great story, but harder for my struggling readers to understand.
Book 5 of 40
Invisible Emmie (paperback)
by Terri Libenson
AR Level 3.8, 2 points
Invisible Emmie is for the quiet, shy girls who are unsure of themselves and need to know there is hope for them. Emmie is basically an only child since her older siblings are adults, and she lives with very busy parents. She loves drawing, has a best friend, and a huge crush on a boy named Tyler Ross. She and her best friend write fake songs about their crushes, and her letter gets out, causing extreme embarrassment. Meanwhile, there is a perfect girl named Katie who is pretty, smart, confident, and also likes Tyler Ross. Emmie’s embarrassing situation causes her a lot of stress, but also causes her to grow as a person.
What I liked about this book was the humor that Libenson uses in both her drawings and her uncomfortable situations. Some of the humor is subtle, so an intelligent reader will have to think about the drawings and captions to understand, but it will give the reader a chuckle.
What I didn’t like about this book was the ending. It bugged me. I understand the meaning, but I think that 1) it will confuse younger readers, and 2) it didn’t make a lot of sense. Whose imaginary friend gets jealous???
Book 13 of summer 2017!
Real Friends (paperback)
by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
AR Level (no quiz yet)
Real Friends made my heart hurt. It hit way, way, way too close to home for me. Not the home I live in today, but the one from when I was in elementary school. This is the story of Shannon, a girl with a vivid imagination who enjoyed writing. She wasn’t perfect, and didn’t always do everything right in her friendships nor with her siblings, but she was gravely mistreated by the girls in the popular group and misunderstood/ignored by her mother. Shannon had to find out the hard way that being in the popular group isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, especially with mean girls who often dress better and compete for attention. Shannon finally realizes who she is and she stands up for herself, but not before suffering a lot of hurt feelings and anxiety, basically ruining her elementary school experience.
What I liked about this book is that students can either relate to Shannon’s experience (like myself), or they can see how damaging being in the popular group can be for someone on the outskirts. It was really hard to read this, because it was such an emotional story. I think it is really important for girls to read this book, because it seems like someone is either out with the in crowd, or the in crowd itself.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it did hurt to read it. I didn’t want Shannon to be abused by her “friends” at school or her sister at home, but it is her experience (the author’s), and important to read.
Book 5 of summer 2017!
MARCH: Book One (paperback)
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
AR Level 4.6, 1 point
Book One of the MARCH trilogy introduces us to John Lewis’s upbringing and entrance into the Civil Rights Movement. Rep. Lewis was raised in the South on a farm. He preached to the chickens while fighting for the chance to attend school and gain an education. Others saw something in him and gave him the chance to use his skill and passion to meet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and join the movement. In this book, he stages peaceful sit-ins so African Americans could eat at food counters.
What I like about this book is it gives details on something I know bits and pieces about. It is a graphic novel, and non-fiction, which is unusual. It is a great way to retell history in a way that is not exactly entertaining, but engaging. I want to make sure all of my students read this book so they learn about a part of history that is important, but not taught in detail.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t something that can be helped. Because of the context, there is a lot of language in this book. I know the word nigger is one that is used in must my students listen to and their parents don’t blink an eye, but it different when I am providing a book that includes it. It is important for them to see how this word was used and why it isn’t to be taken lightly. I just worry that not everyone will see that, and I’ll have to take this valuable piece of literature out of my library.
Book 2 of Summer 2017!
Anya’s Ghost (paperback)
by Vera Brosgol
AR Level 2.3, 1 point
Anya’s Ghost is about a girl named Anya who is uncomfortable with herself. She does not look like everyone else (tall, thin, pretty) and she has an embarrassing Russian mother who doesn’t understand Anya. Anya has been smoking and skipping class, and she falls into a hole where she meets a ghost. The ghost follows her home when Anya accidentally picks up one of the bones, and it seems like the ghost helps Anya, until Anya realizes she has to help herself.
What I liked about this book was the message- to like yourself for who you are. This is a good message for my tweens, and although they may not hear it from a book, I think as many ways we can expose them to that message, the better. My students can all articulate it, but they don’t always FEEL it.
What I didn’t like was that there was some language that could be inappropriate for 11 and 12 year olds, including the word whore. There was also smoking and drinking. I am not taking it out of my library, so I hope parents are okay with taking the bad with the good!
Book 36 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)